Safety Hero: Leading the Charge

Walter Mack lays the foundation for Cherokee Metro’s safety culture.

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Walter Mack, or simply, “Mack,” as his colleagues call him, started at Cherokee Metropolitan District in January 2019 as Safety Coordinator to oversee the district’s Safety Program. Over the last two years, the retired Army veteran has gone on to handle new employee orientation, incident management, and the implementation of safety classes and trainings. But Mack doesn’t just oversee the department; in the eyes of his supervisor and fellow staff, Mack is the department—and the CSD Pool’s first Safety Hero of 2021.

We spoke with Brian Beaudette, Cherokee Metropolitan’s Asset Management Administrator and Mack’s supervisor, about Mack’s responsibilities, dedication to the role, and why he nominated him for the award. Beaudette has been with the district for 35 years and is responsible for starting the fledgling Safety Program in the mid-80s.

“Before Mack came on board, we kind of had a foundation, we were doing safety classes,” Beaudette recalls. “After he came on board, he took hold of the program and gave it a stronger foundation.”

That foundation includes an emphasis on new employee orientation, as Mack plays an integral role in onboarding, preparing new hires with hard hat, gloves, and other district-designated safety tools, and making sure all personnel watch a general safety video before they are cleared for work. His involvement in incident management includes response and follow-up protocols, and he also implements best practices for all staff to follow. Finally, in his monthly safety classes, typically attended by two to three dozen employees, Mack solidifies the bedrock of Cherokee Metropolitan’s safety culture.

“You see his army personality come out when he’s giving the safety classes. His voice becomes louder, he projects; he’s concise and to the point,” Beaudette says, although he notes that outside of these classes he can be very soft-spoken. “It’s almost like a different personality,” Beaudette notes.

It is this demeanor which really sets Mack apart from the other staff members Mr. Beaudette has worked with. Mack’s sincerity, enthusiasm, and dedication to support and promote a safe working environment has resulted in an increased commitment to safety among his fellow coworkers.  Mack expresses the importance of safety both for the present and the future, identifying best practices for how the district ought to operate, and putting the onus on the employees to see it through.

“With the way he presents safety, the employees have really bought into him,” Beaudette says. “Everybody likes him.”

Mack also performs regular site assessments of Cherokee Metropolitan’s water pump and treatment stations. He has implemented fall protection best practices, and manages confined space training on an ongoing basis. Mack is also in charge of updating the district’s emergency response plan, which is reviewed annually; and he’s even started a monthly vehicle inspection for operators.

“His work ethic is great,” Beaudette says. “Maybe it came through with his [Army] training, but you give him a project or task, and he is on it; and gets it done either on time or ahead of time.”

On top of his “mission-critical” responsibilities, Mack has rebooted Cherokee Metropolitan’s newsletter, “Safety Bits.” The latest issue highlighted holiday safety tips and drowsy driving prevention tips.

With Mack’s presence at Cherokee Metropolitan, the safety culture has thrived. With his extensive knowledge of OSHA, National Fire Protection Association, and municipality-specific regulations, Mack has become a very valuable resource for many at the district.

“And if he doesn’t know it off the top of his head, he’s quick to get back to the person with the answer,” Beaudette says.

According to Beaudette, Mack has proved himself to be someone that everyone is comfortable around. His success in working with his fellow employees and Cherokee Metropolitan’s increased commitment to safety both speak to that.

“His respect makes the difference,” Beaudette says. “He’s one of the employees you wish all were.”